My kid wants a tablet. The reason she wants a tablet, to download the latest apps. Apps are small programs specifically made for mobile devices. The Apple App Store boasts of over half a million apps. Apps can map the stars, launch angry birds at pigs, or find a campsite. Unfortunately, many apps are also collecting and transmitting personal data.
Mobile apps need to collect some information. Running an app that provides directions to a restaurant requires geolocation data. However, some apps are collecting information beyond what is necessary. Running the app Paper Toss, throwing digital balls of paper into a garbage can, also collects location data. The Wall Street Journal examined 101 popular smartphone apps and found: 56 transmitted the phone’s unique device ID; 47 transmitted the phone’s location; and 5 transmitted age, gender and other personal details.
Recently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined W3 Innovations, who owns Broken Thumbs Apps — a maker of apps for kids, $50,000 for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. According to the FTC, the family of “Emily” apps encouraged children to email ‘Emily’ comments and submit posts to ‘Emily’s Blog’ via email. The complaint alleged that Broken Thumbs not only collected over 30,000 email addresses but collected, maintained and/or disclosed personal information from over 300 Emily’s Girl World app users and approximately 290 Emily’s Dress Up app users. By pursuing the first enforcement action against a mobile apps company, the FTC is signaling that apps, like websites, must protect children’s privacy.